Bride's murder and the trials of Britons facing justice abroad

The story of Anni Dewani, the bride murdered on her honeymoon in South Africa, took another twist this week.

When news first broke of the killing, the photograph of the couple on their wedding day served only to highlight how their dream holiday had turned into the most tragic of nightmares.

Early reports claimed the British newlyweds had been riding in a taxi when the driver mistakenly took a wrong turn. Navigating his way through a township, a no-go area for tourists, the car was hijacked and Mrs Dewani, whose body was not recovered until the following morning, was shot dead.

However, it was not long before accusations began to fly. When the taxi driver, Robert Zola Tongo, was arrested he claimed Shrien Dewani, who by then had flown back to his home in Bristol, had paid him to kill his wife. At a further court hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice on Wednesday, it was also alleged Mr Dewani had told Tongo, whose plea-bargaining has seen seven years knocked off a 25 year sentence, that he had previously orchestrated another murder in South Africa.

With the waters becoming ever murkier with each new day, the British and South African judicial systems appear to be on a collision course.

Clare Montgomery, the QC representing Mr Dewani, has spoken vehemently in his defence. "It would be grotesque to remand a man like this in custody," she said, just before her client was told his family would need to pay a 250,000 surety to secure bail. "It is a flimsy case (against him] that relies on the words of self-confessed robbers and murderers."

Ms Montgomery also suggested the case had been cooked up and added the murder "would seriously damage the reputation of South Africa" if it were merely the work of a local gang. She said Mr Dewani "is personally willing to deal with these allegations and he is reasonably confident they come from men with nothing to lose and everything to gain."

Mr Dewani was subsequently released wearing an electronic tag and is now waiting for formal extradition proceedings to begin. The full facts of the case, together with the guilt or innocence of all those involved is unlikely to become clear for some months. However, even at this early stage in proceedings it has already highlighted the complexities of a case which pits two different judicial systems against each other.

About 2,600 Britons are in prison abroad. The majority have been found guilty of drugs charges, and while Fair Trials International, the body which campaigns for international standards of justice, say most are ultimately dealt with fairly, it's the significant minority who aren't which is a cause for concern.

"In some cases there is questionable police evidence, trials which go ahead without a lawyer to argue the defendant's case in court, while others are presumed guilty because, perhaps through naivety, they have had links with criminal elements abroad," says Jago Russell, chief executive of FTI. "Every week we are contacted by people arrested abroad who have received no information on their basic legal rights or the case against them. All too often the result is injustice."

While Justice Secretary Sir Ken Clarke last month signed up to a draft EU directive which, when it comes into force, will guarantee minimum standards of treatment, controversy still surrounds the use of European Arrest Warrants. Once issued, the suspect must be extradited within 90 days. If the form is correctly filled out, there is nothing individual countries can do to prevent an extradition taking place, which many fear opens the system up to abuse.

The founder of the controversial WikiLeaks website, Julian Assange, is the latest high-profile figure to become the subject of a warrant following allegations of rape in Sweden, but FTI is dealing with numerous other cases of ordinary British citizens who have been deported.

One is Andrew Symeou, who was extradited to Greece last summer after authorities alleged he punched a man in a Zante nightclub causing him to fall from a platform and sustain fatal head injuries.

Symeou has always protested he was not in the club at the time of the incident, a claim which has been corroborated by witnesses. Others, who were also questioned at the time of the attack, later complained to UK consular officials that they were held for eight hours without food or water and were beaten and threatened until they made statements implicating Symeou.

"Five of the victim's friends, who did witness the incident, described the perpetrator as tall, blond, clean shaven and wearing a blue polo shirt," says Mr Russell.

"Andrew has dark hair, at the time he had a beard and photos of him on the night show he was wearing a yellow T-shirt.

"Despite such serious flaws in the investigation, the Greek authorities issued a European Arrest Warrant and 18 months ago Andrew returned to Greece. A trial date was eventually set for June this year – almost a year since he went to prison. Sadly it had to be adjourned because the prosecution failed to ensure their witnesses were aware of the trial date and he is still waiting to be able to present his case."

While the British justice system endures its fair share of criticism, the wheels of foreign criminal proceedings often turn notoriously slowly.

It took four years to secure the release of Liverpool football fan Michael Shields, who was convicted of murdering a Bulgarian barman after his team's 2005 Champions League final win, despite another man later confessing to the attack. A series of court hearings and a lie detector test eventually resulted in a pardon being issued last year, but as the 23-year-old comes to terms with what he described as a "living hell" there are still some for whom the wait goes on.

Another of FTI's cases involves Anthony Malone, a former paratrooper from Teeside, who has been held in the notorious Pol-i-Charkhi prison in Afghanistan since 2008. The 38-year-old, from Stockton, went to the Middle East in 2002 to set up a security and logistics business and was paid a deposit in return for supplying armoured vehicles to a former governor of the Kandahar province.

The deal ultimately fell through and while he has now served a two-year sentence for fraud, the Afghan authorities have refused his release, insisting he must not only pay back the deposit, but debts to 10 other individuals – including hundreds of dollars to a flower shop – Malone says he has never heard of.

"The original trial was seriously marred by the fact no interpreter was provided and Malone was denied the chance to call witnesses in his defence," says Mr Russell. "The judge has acknowledged that his detention is illegal in Afghan law, but has still refused to release him.

"He has now spent seven months in prison on top of his sentence and while he now finally has regular legal counsel, even now his attorney is being denied basic documents and information about the case.

"We have taken great steps forward in our mission towards a world where every person has the right to a fair trial, whatever their nationality, wherever they are accused, but the truth is the challenge is enormous."

Drug charges can lead to death sentence

Latest Foreign Office figures show 1,057 of 2,582 Britons jailed abroad were on drugs charges.

The majority were held in Spain, with 207, followed by the US with 141 and Thailand and France, both holding 79.

Overall, America detained the highest number of British nationals, with 669 in jail, followed by Spain with 357 and Australia with 271.

Of the 2,582 detained in total, 256 were women and 2,326 were men.

The death sentence can be handed down against people convicted of drug smuggling in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Other countries, including Cyprus, India, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates can impose long sentences even for small quantities of drugs.

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